If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few days, it’s this: Most people—religious or otherwise—have no idea what marriage is, why it exists, and what we need it for. And what’s worse, they have no idea they have no idea.
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.
As all parties agree, many [polygamous and polyamorous groups] provide loving and nurturing homes to their children, whether biological or adopted. And hundreds of thousands of children are presently being raised by such [groups].
Excluding [polygamous and polyamorous groups] from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of [polygamous and polyamorous groups].
[Polygamous and polyamorous groups] are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex [and same-sex] couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that [those with a polygamous or polyamorous orientation] are unequal in important respects. It demeans [those with a polygamous or polyamorous orientation] for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. [Polygamous and polyamorous groups], too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.
The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex [and same-sex] couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest. With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding [polygamous and polyamorous groups] from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.
These considerations lead to the conclusion that the right to marry [whomever one wishes to marry] is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment [polygamous and polyamorous groups] may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that [polygamous and polyamorous groups] may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
Now tell me, on the basis of the reasons given, why not?
The Supreme Court decision yesterday won’t just affect marriage. Giving the government the power to redefine a pre-political institution changes the relationship of the government to all of our rights. As Jay Richards says in “Why a Limited Government Must Recognize Natural Marriage,” “You can’t make war on the natural law and then appeal to it for help.”
The arguments for redefining marriage have been all about individual rights, but the move would actually undermine the foundation of individual rights. Here’s why. A limited government doesn’t try to redefine reality as the Orwellian governments of the 20th century did (including the fictional government of George Orwell’s 1984). A limited government recognizes and defends realities outside its jurisdiction. Our government doesn’t bestow rights on us as individuals. We get our rights from God. A just and limited state simply recognizes and protects this pre-political reality. But a government that gets in the habit of ignoring other pre-political realities is primed to ignore the reality of unalienable human rights.
The individual and his inherent rights are a pre-political reality. Marriage is another. The institution of marriage transcends every political system….
Appealing to nature and nature’s God to defend individual rights and equality, which most cultures have not recognized, while ignoring the universal testimony of nature and culture on marriage, is like sawing off the branch you’re sitting on. Put another way, you can’t make war on the natural law and then appeal to it for help.
So, just as government can’t redefine our rights as individuals made in the image of God, it has no authority to redefine marriage. Communism was totalitarian because it tried to redefine the individual, to create a new “Communist Man.” We’re now struggling with another totalitarian impulse to redefine reality.… If the state can redefine a universal institution rooted in human nature, what can’t it redefine?
Invoking a right doesn’t create a right. Rights come from our nature, from reality, from the way things are. In the case of marriage, we are dealing with a biological reality first and foremost. A government that puts itself in charge of redefining such things is a menace to human rights and human institutions.
Make no mistake, the right on which the Supreme Court is basing its decision is not a natural right to equal protection under the law (no one has ever been denied a marriage license because of his sexual orientation); it’s a right to make marriage whatever we wish it to be—a right they’ve created on their own. As Justice Roberts said, “The fundamental right to marry does not include a right to make a State change its definition of marriage.” The Supreme Court yesterday trampled a pre-political reality in order to create a new “right” that five of the nine justices personally prefer. Today, they happen to prefer having two-person marriage. But once the two complementary sexes of spouses are irrelevant, there’s no principled reason to limit the number of spouses to two.
Indeed, there are no limits at all on a government that isn’t bound to respect and submit to realities outside of itself. We’ll just have to wait and see where five justices’ future personal whims take us.
One more recommendation: I’ve been reading Anthony Esolen’s book Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity. It’s very good, and probably unlike anything you’ve seen. While the excellent What Is Marriage? appeals to the logical "left brain," Esolen’s Defending Marriage approaches the subject from the other side, using primarily literary imagery to reveal goodness, truth, and beauty in his attempt to restore the vision of marriage that we’ve lost.
As I’ve read the bits of literature and poetry he uses to paint the glorious picture of marriage as it’s meant to be, I’ve been moved to tears. I hadn’t realized how desensitized I’ve become to what we’ve done to marriage over the last sixty years. Seeing the stark contrast between the ancient Christian view of marriage and today’s common view is startling. It will grieve you. Read this book, and you will long to be part of restoring it.
No doubt you’ve heard the ruling. I’ve been praying and thinking about how we as Christians and STR people move forward. We’ve got good arguments, and the issues may change over time that need to be responded to, but the people we are to be as Christians doesn’t change.
God isn’t surprised by this ruling, and by His sovereign will He’s allowed this to happen. And He’s put us here in this time for a purpose.
I’ve been thinking about the Christians in the first few centuries who were at odds with the culture, ostracized, and often persecuted as a result. They lived out the Gospel and distinguished themselves, and therefore their message, because of it. I’ve specifically been thinking of how they saved baby girls who were abandoned because they were not wanted or valued, disposed of to die of exposure. And how Christians cared for the sick when they were left for dead during plagues that hit the cities.
They carried on and lived in a way that honored God, showing love to all people, standing firm. Even though they were despised by the culture, they carried on doing what was right before God and loving those who persecuted them.
Now, more than ever, is the time to be conscientious of wisdom and character in KWC (Knowledge, Wisdom, and Chraracter in the Ambassador Model), offering all of our reasons and arguments with gentleness and reverence.
It’s tempting to get angry at this decision that goes against God, nature, and our Constitution, but that won’t help. It’s tempting to despair, but that won’t help either. God has a purpose for us now in this time, and we’ll faithfully continue to honor God and live out KWC in our own lives, as a team, and in teaching other Christians.
We’ll answer sin and anger with patience and kindness. We’ll love the people who make us their enemies, just as Jesus did. And God will give us the wisdom and grace we need to do this. As Alan Shlemon consistently reminds us, let’s answer with truth and compassion. In the end, it’s right back to the Gospel—there are lost sinners who need to be reconciled to God, just as we once were.
Our times are in God’s hands (Psalm 31:15). Our job is to be faithful and trust Him in all circumstances.
Here are some resources that will help you as we move forward.
Here is some good news. You may recall that the Cal State University system derecognized InterVarsity clubs last fall because InterVarsity’s policy of requiring club officers to hold Christian beliefs went against Cal State's nondiscrimination policy. In a happy turn of events, InterVarsity has announced they’ll be allowed back on CSU campuses without having to compromise their commitment to having Christians lead their Christian groups on campus:
“Following substantive and cordial ongoing conversations, CSU clarified the intent and reach of Executive Order 1068,” said InterVarsity president Jim Lundgren. “We are confident we can choose leaders who are qualified to lead InterVarsity’s witnessing communities throughout the Cal State system.”
"Cal State has not changed the language of their 'all comers' policy," said Greg Jao, vice president of campus engagement. "They have clarified that the policy only requires that (a) we allow all students to become members, which we have always done, and (b) we allow all students to apply for leadership positions.
"We have been assured that we can have a rigorous selection process which reflects InterVarsity’s mission and message as a Christian ministry," he told CT. "We’re confident in our ability to choose leaders who reflect our mission and message."
InterVarsity has also posted an audio interview with Jao on the resolution.
What the administration was able to do was interpret how they will apply the law in a way that we think actually increases the diversity of campus by ensuring that religious voices remain on campus and remain distinctively religious.
Just under half (44 percent) of evangelicals told LifeWay Research recently that student groups at public schools should not be allowed to require their leaders to hold specific beliefs. Only a third (36%) of evangelicals said the same of groups at private schools.
I don’t know how to account for that large percentage. Relativisim and a belief that religious truth is subjective? A knee-jerk reaction against creeds? A hyper-individualism that resists any submission and conformity to an outside standard? Or was it merely a badly-worded poll question? Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to locate the study to investigate further. It certainly makes a difference whether or not the question was specifically worded to be about requiring leaders to hold particular beliefs in clubs centered around those beliefs. I would rightly speak out against a math club in a public school requiring particular religious beliefs, but it seems to me to be common sense that it’s appropriate for a Christian group to require the people who lead it to hold Christian beliefs.
Regardless, this is certainly good news overall. Let’s thank God today for this!
Praying for Unsaved Loved Ones by Tim Barnett: “The thinking goes, “If only I were as gifted as William Lane Craig or Greg Koukl, they would come to believe.” But this just isn’t true. Even the most brilliant apologists have unsaved family and friends in their lives. This should give us pause…. We need to turn to the Living God in prayer. That’s right, we need to put aside the apologetics books, get down on our knees, and pray. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not very good at this. It is much easier for me to argue with the lost than to pray for the lost. I’m prone to devote my time to refuting the unbeliever’s arguments rather than raising them up in prayer. So, how should we be praying for those who disagree with our fundamental convictions? I’d like to offer you five practical ways that we can pray for our unsaved family and friends.” (Read more.)
Muslim Authority by Alan Shlemon: “Virtually every conversation with a Muslim comes down to one issue: authority. No matter what you say about Jesus and the Gospel, you’ll likely get the same Muslim response: “I can’t trust what you’re telling me because the Bible has been corrupted.” This is not only the most common objection you’ll hear from a Muslim, but it’s also the most significant. That’s because the essentials of your message to a Muslim – Jesus and the Gospel – are all found in the Bible…. If the Muslim rejects that source of authority from the get-go, then you’ll have a hard time making any headway. I wrote about this point (and how to respond to the objection) in my book The Ambassador’s Guide to Islam. Having been to a lot of mosques and talked to a lot of Muslims, I want to offer three examples that demonstrate how authority is the key issue.” (Read more.)
Don't Play Defense, Ask Questions by Brett Kunkle: “As I answered objections to Christianity, it was interesting to watch the body language of the Christian students. At first they seemed timid, as if they were fearful and beaten down by such challenges. They allowed the skeptical students to dominate much of the conversation. Their forlorn looks indicated a resignation that most objections cannot be answered. However, as I stood toe-to-toe with the challengers, offering firm yet gracious responses, the Christians seemed emboldened. The worried looks lifted from their faces. They began to jump into the conversation more. Finally, one girl recounted a regular challenge her atheist friend had been throwing at her, for which she had no answer. “Religion is the source of all wars.” Clearly, she wanted to answer this challenge, but had no rational defense to offer. And it was here I offered her and the other Christian high schoolers a simple tool to stop many challengers in their tracks—questions.” (Read more.)